Esther Howland Valentine’s Day Card (Photo Credit:

Valentine’s Day was celebrated in some countries this past month. The history of this celebration is somewhat murky, since it is associated with both a martyr in the Catholic church and a pagan fertility festival. But since the 1400’s, it has been associated with the exchange of letters. In the 1850’s, a Massachusetts woman named Esther Howland began selling hand-made valentines. In the 1900’s, printed cards appeared.

When I was a child growing up in rural Southern California, just before Valentine’s Day, it was typical for elementary school teachers to have pupils make large folded envelopes made of construction paper. Then on the actual day, children would put Valentine’s cards into the envelopes of their friends or of the people with whom they wanted to have as friends.

This day was always somewhat stressful for me. Even as a six-year-old, I could see that some children got more Valentine’s than others. It was particularly sad when a child would get only one or two. By the time I was eight, my third-grade teacher told the parents that the Valentine’s Day tradition of giving cards at school would only continue if children bringing cards brought them for everyone in the class.

Esther Howland Valentine’s Day Card (Photo Credit:

The teacher’s attempt was intended to overcome inequity in the distribution of cards, but it added a new source of stress for me. My family didn’t have the money to buy Valentine’s cards. (Until I was twelve, we lived in an uninsulated one-bedroom wooden house on a flower ranch, with all the children sleeping in the small room at the back of the house. When the fifth baby arrived, her crib was put in the living room, next to my parents’ hide-a-bed couch.) So starting around the winter holidays, I would save pieces of ribbon and bits of colored paper, so that I could make my own Valentine’s cards, which involved drawing flowers and birds and hearts with my collection of stubby crayons.

As you can imagine, inclusiveness is an important value to me. I am frequently worried about the unequal distribution of the world’s food, clean water, and safe housing. Today’s instantaneous communication channels regularly show us distressing scenes of devastation, starvation, natural disasters, and war. I often feel overwhelmed by my inability to help, especially as the need for humanitarian aid is so huge and so widespread.

There are many nongovernmental organizations that try to help people in need, and charitable contributions to these groups are an important way to try to help others. However, I have made a choice to focus on a different group. I cannot do much about the equitable distribution of food in under-resourced countries, but I can contribute to the higher education of language teachers and applied linguists around the world.

By contributing to TIRF, I can provide support for doctoral candidates who are near to finishing their degrees. The TIRF Doctoral Dissertation Grants (DDG) program is open to students who are advanced to candidacy and whose studies are related to one or more of TIRF’s research priorities. They do not have to be citizens of any particular country or members of any particular professional association. These grants are intended to help people finish their formal graduate education, at a point in their careers where many candidates falter, either for lack of funding or lack of encouragement.

Receiving a TIRF DDG can be the difference between completing and not completing one’s PhD or EdD. These grants make an immediate and long-lasting impact on the lives of young scholars because of the kind of support they offer.

For these reasons, I ask that you join me in making a donation to TIRF. I know that there are many other needs for the resources you can share, and some of those needs are more urgent. Nevertheless, I hope you will give a gift to TIRF in March. And if you don’t want to take my word on how meaningful these grants are, I urge you to listen to what our grantees have to say about what receiving a TIRF grant has meant to them – click here.

Best wishes,